New Year’s in Japan (part 2)
Last time we talked about some of the most popular Japanese New Year’s traditions, such as meals, temple-going, and visiting family. There are still some aspects of New Year’s we haven’t talked about yet, so here are some more traditions associated with the popular holiday.
As with many Japanese holidays, there is a business component to New Year’s. In this case we’re talking about the year-end parties (bonenkai in Japanese) and New Year’s parties (shinnenkai). Bonenkai literally means “year forgetting party”, and so they are meant to be an opportunity to forget the worries that afflicted them during the year. Shinnenkai on the other hand take place after New Year’s Day, and are a way to start the year afresh. In these parties employees meet not only their coworkers, but clients, partners and industry colleagues as well. Some people can have a good number of parties to attend, in some cases even every week or several times a week for a month or two. The busiest people might have a dozen or so parties to attend.
One other important thing one has to remember before the New Year is to write cards. Japanese people tend to write dozens of cards to friends, coworkers, and relatives, and have them delivered on New Year’s Day. Sometimes thins can take hours of writing, but they represent one’s goodwill and appreciation towards others.
New Year’s represents a fresh new start, so it is also customary to clean and tidy up one’s house top to bottom, not unlike spring cleaning in other countries. This is partly because it’s the only time some people have to do this throughout the year, and also because it represents a clean and pure start to the new year.
Finally, there is the tradition of otoshidama, or New Year’s allowance. This consists of giving pocket money to children and teenagers, often five or ten thousand yen. Kids then buy something they want with this money. So while sales tend to plummet after Christmas in other countries, in Japan the first couple of weeks of the new year are still good for business.
There is definitely no shortage of things to remember if you’re spending this time of the year in Japan, and they are definitely very different from what you’re probably accustomed to, so pick your favorites and give them a go.
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